- By Airport Express. The most convenient and recommended way to travel from Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) into the main areas of Hong Kong and Kowloon is via Airport Express, a specialized train system of the Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway (MTR). It’s specifically designed for passengers traveling to and from HKIA, with roomy and plush seats, wide aisles, and special compartments for luggage.
|Alighting from the Airport Express at Hong Kong Station|
- By Bus. The cheapest (but slowest) option is taking the bus from HKIA. Take the A11 Bus to Hong Kong (HK$40) and the A21 to Kowloon (HK$33). It’s best to get an Octopus Card before boarding the bus to the city so that passengers can simply tap in and not have to worry about having exact fare.
- By Taxi. One can also take a taxi from the airport but this is really so expensive. Unless it’s an emergency, take the Airport Express instead.
Throughout our holiday, we most often took the MTR when we were going around Hong Kong. Most destinations are conveniently located near certain MTR stations so it’s just a matter of knowing which MTR station to go to, which we’ve already researched in advance via Google Maps. There are MTR signs all over the stations in English and announcements of train stops are broadcasted in English, Cantonese, and Mandarin so it would be hard to get lost. Here’s the MTR system map (click on the image to enlarge/download). Click here to get updated, official map from Hong Kong MTR.
**UPDATED: Here’s the latest MTR, Ferryway and Tramway Map (click to enlarge)
The proximity of the hotel to key MTR stations is also an important thing to consider when choosing your accommodations. Our hotel was located in Sheung Wan, which is conveniently just one MTR stop away from the mega MTR stations of Central and Hong Kong.
|Hong Kong Station and IFC Mall|
The best thing about the MTR stations is that they’re usually connected to the swankiest shopping malls in Hong Kong. For example, right above the Hong Kong Station is IFC Mall while another beautiful mall, Elements, is connected to Kowloon Station.
Compared to our own MTR system here in Manila, it’s really a joy to ride Hong Kong’s MTR. It’s certainly a well-organized, smooth system of public transportation. The trains were roomy, the aircons were working properly, and all the stations were clean. Hong Kong’s MTR alone attests to Hong Kong’s First World status.
That being said, we also experienced the MTR getting really crowded. We certainly experienced the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong not just on its streets but also in the stations and in the subway trains. Throngs of people move about the stations (and the Cantonese surely move very fast!). In the first two days, I was really overwhelmed with all the bustle. I seldom ride the MRT here in Manila anymore so I guess I wasn’t as used to the crowds. But after a while, I guess my Chinese blood awakened and I was soon moving about with the masses of people, just like a local. 🙂
The Cantonese are also very particular about riding escalators, especially in MTR stations—the right lane is the slow lane while the left lane is for those who are in a rush and prefer to walk up or down the escalators and overtake. It took me a while to get used to this since this is something we don’t really observe here in Manila.
It’s actually quite easy to navigate the MTR stations. First, look for the particular exit using the signs posted all over the station.
|Maps with nearby tourist attractions for each MTR station|
Then just follow the arrows to the proper exit. It’s important to know the correct exit since some stations are so huge
that if commuters take the wrong exit, then they’d have to walk a long way across the station just to get to the right exit.
Since we were going around Hong Kong for eight days, we each got ourselves an adult Octopus Card, which is the reloadable stored value card that can be used for riding Hong Kong’s MTR, buses, trams, and the Star Ferry. We had to shell out HK$50 refundable deposit and HK$100 for the initial stored value. On our last day, we refunded the HK$50 (but subject to a HK$7 refund fee) and added on to it to pay for our Airport Express tickets to HKIA.
The Octopus Card can also be used to pay for items in stores like 7-Eleven and McDonald’s, although we hardly used ours for that since we wanted to monitor how much we were really spending on transportation.
Since we spent more than HK$100 within a certain period of time on our Octopus cards, we even got free single journey MTR tickets!
Octopus cards are readily available in MTR stations and outlets like 7-Eleven stores. Single journey tickets are also available but if the plan is to really go around, I suggest getting an Octopus Card since the rates are cheaper and overall, it’s just more convenient instead of buying a single journey ticket each time.
3. By Taxi
We consciously made an effort to keep our transportation expenses low since our Hong Kong holiday was quite long and we knew we were going to do spend money on a lot of sightseeing. While we took the MTR most of the time, it was still unavoidable for us to take taxis. We usually just rode cabs at the end of the day when we were already tired from all the walking. We took the MTR to Hong Kong Station then from there, got a cab to our hotel in Sheung Wan. Luckily, our hotel is within the first 20 kilometers so we more or less ended up paying only the flag down rate of HK$20—which was cheap considering the convenience and the relief to our aching feet.
But be careful about additional taxi charges as this can easily double or even triple the cab fare. On our first day, we also took a cab off the Airport Express at the Hong Kong Station to our hotel since we had three luggage trolleys between the two of us. Every baggage that’s placed in the cab’s trunk means an additional HK$5 and only “light personal hand baggage” may be carried inside the “passenger compartment”. Wheelchairs and animals are also subject to an additional HK$5 fee.
|The taxi line at Hong Kong Station Airport Express.|
There was also this one time we took a cab when we were in a hurry to make it to afternoon tea at the Peninsula Hong Kong from our hotel. Since we had to cross the tunnel to get from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon, our total fare was also subject to the additional toll paid by the driver plus HK$10 for Cross-Harbour Tunnel and HK$15 for Eastern or Western Crossing (I can’t remember which tunnel our driver took).
Also, you should make sure that you have your hotel’s business card (or anything with your hotel’s Chinese characters on it) to show the taxi driver. Most of the taxi drivers still have a hard time understanding English and there was even one time when one cab driver brought us to Soho when we said “SOHOTEL”. Since then, we just gave the driver our hotel card to avoid any confusion and additional taxi fare!
4. By Bus
I actually like taking the bus when I’m traveling since I get to see more of the city on the street level, as opposed to train systems which are usually underground. However, we seldom took the bus in Hong Kong since we found riding the MTR was faster and more convenient. Nevertheless, there were still certain destinations in our itinerary that were more conveniently reached by bus:
- Ocean Park. There are dedicated Citybus services (Bus #629) going directly to Ocean Park departing from outside the Admiralty MTR Station.
- Tai O Fishing Village in Lantau Island. We took Bus 11 at the Tung Chung bus terminus (yes, terminus and not terminal!)
- From the Peak Tram Lower Terminus. We took Bus 15C to Central Bus Terminus/ Star Ferry Pier (right next to IFC Mall) after riding down from The Peak since it was a long walk to the nearest MTR station.
Be sure to check out Google Maps for bus numbers and routes to specific destinations.
Throughout our holiday, we also encountered the Big Bus Tours, which allowed tourists to go on a sightseeing tour of Hong Kong in or on top of an open double decker bus. A. and I didn’t consider going on one since we had all the time to explore and personally preferred walking and being nearer to the local culture. However, I would recommend the Big Bus Tours for those who don’t have time to spare and still want to take in as much of Hong Kong’s famous landmarks.
5. By Tram
The double-deck open air tram (called the “ding ding” by the Cantonese) runs from east to west of Hong Kong island and at a fixed rate of HK$2.30 for adults, it’s the cheapest way to explore Hong Kong. You can pay with coins or with an Octopus card and you just pay as you get off the tram.
We rode the tram from Central when we explored the Wan Chai district. The tram is quite narrow and unfortunately, it was really full at that time so we had to stand all the way. I was also worried about missing our stop since the only signs of the stops’ names are located outside by the tram waiting sheds. I was constantly counting the number of stops in my head. So make sure that you find out your tram stop in advance via Google Maps and check out the tram route maps here.
Despite the above, I’d still say that the tram is a lovely—and almost romantic—way of experiencing Hong Kong. I’d go around Hong Kong again through the tram, especially when I’d have lots of time for plain old sightseeing and exploring—especially since it’s now the only remaining double-decker tram in the world. Now, that’s old world charm for you.
I also really love The Ding Ding Hong Kong Tram Guide, which shows the highlights of each district in Hong Kong that can be accessed via tram, and shows the must-try authentic cultural and culinary experiences as recommended by a respected local guide. I love the fact that the highlights are quite off the beaten tourist path too 🙂
6. By Star Ferry
The Star Ferry is also a convenient transit option and just like the tram, it is a verified Hong Kong institution. We took it twice from Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) to Central (there are also services to and from TST and Wan Chai). When we were in TST or near Kowloon, we found ourselves too tired to take the long walk back to the nearest MTR station. So we just rode the Star Ferry to cross Victoria Harbour to Central, and we found this to be faster and more relaxing, especially at night.
Plus, the view of Hong Kong Island as we were crossing via the Star Ferry cannot be beat.
The Star Ferry is very cheap (HK$2.50 on weekdays and HK$3 on weekends and public holidays) and also accepts payments via Octopus Cards. The Star Ferry pier at TST is very near Canton Road and the area for viewing the Symphony of Lights. For more information, click here.
7. By Walking
Of course, walking in Hong Kong is unavoidable. It really IS the best way to explore and EXPERIENCE what Hong Kong is all about—the sounds, the smells, and all the local flavor and sights that make the experience uniquely Hong Kong.
Aside from the usual walking we did while sightseeing and shopping throughout our holiday, we also made it a point to go on walks in districts like Central (a must!), Sheung Wan, Wan Chai, Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok, which gave us greater appreciation for the culture and heritage of Hong Kong that we otherwise wouldn’t have gotten had we availed of the usual 3D/2N Hong Kong package tours!
If you like having a tangible guide in your hands, be sure to get the free Hong Kong Walks pamphlet from the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) at the arrival hall of HKIA —it contains recommended walks divided into HK’s districts, which can be done separately or combined depending on your interests and time. Online, check out HKTB’s themed walks here, as well as Frommer’s recommended walking tours.
Of course, I would also recommend getting the best pair of shoes for walking. And what exactly does “walking shoes” mean anyway? Since I won’t be caught dead wearing rubber shoes except in the gym, I don’t think I will ever wear rubber shoes when traveling just for the sake of comfort! For me, walking shoes for travel mean anything super comfortable but they must be stylish too of course (and a plus if they can go along well with most, if not all, my outfits). For Hong Kong, my cheap black ballet flats from SM were my go-to shoes—they were no-fail, super comfy, and didn’t give me any blisters at all.
One of my companion’s well-traveled aunts also has a simple shoe tip—when traveling abroad, never ever bring new shoes. No matter how good or expensive they are, they will never be as comfortable as when they’re worn in. Simple but so wise!
I also noticed that most Hong Kong locals were wearing Converse Chuck Taylor sneakers, which for me are a cheap and fashionable alternative to chunky rubber shoes. If the Cantonese wear them for commuting, then they’re good enough as walking shoes for me.
Lastly, I learned to have a a good bag to carry all my stuff around, which was important with all the walking we had to do. I love my Louis Vuitton Montorgueil (GM size) for travel—it’s a great city bag but at the same time, is roomy enough and is really the perfect size to carry all my stuff whenever I’m traveling. Plus I like the fact that it’s fully zippered for added security especially when walking in crowded areas. Time and again, it has proven that it’s timeless and yet practical, making it a great classic bag in my book.
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